A group of scientists from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute have compiled the world’s first ever comprehensive database containing information on the location and environmental effects of litter in our oceans. Their findings are published on Litterbase, available in both German and English, and complete with easily comprehensible maps, charts and infographics.
We’re all aware of the issue of waste – particularly plastic – in our oceans, with phenomena such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the microplastic pollution we cause simply by washing our clothes, and ever more news stories about marine animals found washed up with huge amounts of plastic in their stomachs. But until now, actual scientific data about this crucial issue has been hard to come by, with statistics and research tied up in different papers, measured using different units and criteria and never brought together in one place.
The online portal Litterbase contains information compiled from 1,267 different scientific studies, carefully set out in comprehensible global maps and simple charts, consistently fed with new information and completely accessible to the public. It’s a hugely valuable project that will improve our analysis and understanding of the amount of waste in oceans around the world, and the patterns of distribution.
Graphics and Maps Show Distribution and Biological Impacts
People can see the information visualised in the form of a map of the world, which shows the location of the waste that has been identified so far. You can also filter the information using different criteria, for example the year(s) in which the reports were published, and what kind of area the waste was found in, e.g. beach or sea floor. Clicking on a point on the map brings up a direct link to the scientific papers where the data was found. It’s quick, simple and transparent.
Classic pie charts are also used to present the data in an accessible, instantly understandable way. Plastic is – unsurprisingly – what currently makes up the majority of the waste, followed by a whole slew of other materials.
Other charts show what kind of animals are most affected – mostly sea birds and fish – and the interactions that usually occur – with the animals usually either consuming the waste or ending up tangled up in it. The data is updated consistently, so the exact figures are always changing depending on the latest findings. The charts are free and available to download.
So Empty Spaces on the Map Show Where the Sea Is Completely Clean?
Unfortunately, the gaps on the map above – the West coast of Africa for example, and higher up, towards the Arctic – don’t necessarily indicate a lack of waste in those areas. Instead, they highlight the fact that they’re blind spots, where more research is needed. Unlike the Mediterranean, where numerous studies on ocean waste have been carried out, for huge parts of the globe, there’s still just not enough data.